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‘Inherently implausible’ that UK intelligence is breaking law, says MP and former defense secretary Rifkind

November 7th, 2013
04:21 PM ET

By Mick Krever, CNN

Brits have little reason to worry that their intelligence agencies are breaking the law, Malcolm Rifkind, chairman of UK Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Thursday.

“When criminals break the law they are hoping to have financial gain, make a lot of money. That’s what crime is all about,” Rikfind said, who is also a former UK defense secretary and foreign secretary.

“We’re talking about intelligence agencies. The heads of these agencies are very senior public servants. What personal benefit do they get from breaking the law? They would be committing a crime; they would end up being prosecuted if it was found out.”

“I can’t prove it never happens, but I find it inherently implausible in any rational basis.”

Rifkind and Amanpour spoke during a break in historic testimony before parliament.

For the first time ever, the three secretive heads of Britain’s intelligence services appeared before parliament – GCHQ, the British equivalent of the NSA that provides signal intelligence; MI6, the foreign intelligence service; and MI5, the domestic intelligence service.

As the U.S. comes under fire from abroad for intelligence gathering done by the NSA, the British intelligence chiefs answered questions about the UK’s own efforts.

The intelligence chief emphasized again and again that they believe their work has been compromised in the five months since Edward Snowden’s leaked NSA documents began to enter the public sphere.

The leaks “put our operations at risk,” said John Sawyers, the head of MI6. “Our adversaries are rubbing their hands with glee. Al-Qaeda is lapping it up.”

“Although some terrorists are very stupid, there are a lot who are very clever,” Rifkind told Amanpour. “And we know that those who are very clever and very dangerous constantly try to identify what are the capabilities of the intelligence agencies, and try to outstrip them.”

“It’s disturbing that there is hard evidence,” he said, “but I can’t say that I was entirely surprised.”

Newspapers editors, he said, should “ponder” over what they publish in future, knowing that, as UK intelligence now say, that information is being used by terrorists to change their behavior.

Rifkind said that he was satisfied with the answers his committee got on Thursday from the intelligence chief.

“What in practice is happening is that these modern computers can process vast numbers of emails, but they discard over 99.9 percent of them, which have no links to terrorism or serious crime,” Rifkind said.

That happens, he added, without “any human eye ever having read” anything.

“So when the occasional argument is used that ordinary, respectable, law-abiding citizens are having their emails read, as was said today and as I am aware from my own knowledge, that simply does not happen.”

A former head of GCHQ, David Omand, boasted on the BBC Thursday of the collaboration between the UK and America on intelligence.

“We have the brains, they have the money,” Omand said.

“I don’t think he meant that literally,” Rifkind joked.

“I have no doubt from my own meetings with people in the American intelligence community there’s one heck of a lot of brain there as well,” he said. “But there’s no doubt when it comes to money that the United States is in a league of its own – it’s not just a super power, it’s a super-duper power.”

soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. Swami Bodhi Aseem

    Dear Mrs.Amanpour:it's most unfortunate that you present the declarations of these three me n as facts, which would go for any time at any place and for any reason, most unfortunate – because these very services had/have and still are spying in Germany, from the roof of the British Embassy and obviously for economic reasons! The poor performance of British Economy as well as the non-existing respect for german sovereignity/friendship and independency might explain this excessive dynamic drive of British Secret Services spying in and into germany – and of course, the naivety of Mrs. Merkel! British as well as American Services have been and most probably will continue to break german law, within germany!

    November 7, 2013 at 6:49 pm | Reply
  2. hdq

    “We’re talking about intelligence agencies. The heads of these agencies are very senior public servants. What personal benefit do they get from breaking the law? They would be committing a crime; they would end up being prosecuted if it was found out.”
    Yes, they are meant to be "public sevants", but in reality they are told what to do, by their government, whcih is composed of politicians. And politicans act in accordance with their political ideologies and politcal and private "interests" (none of which has anythng to do with "public interest").
    So, while being intended to serve the genreal publuic, in reality all intelligence agencies serve the politicians in power.
    And politicians do commit crimes, like waging wars of aggression.
    So, it is not the "intelligence agencies" but the politicians who control them who are the criminals.

    November 8, 2013 at 6:48 am | Reply
  3. Asadullah khan

    well mr MP in pakistan it is a routine and the number of agencie are myriad.just now my message to ihrights commission heasquarter was blocked on flimsy grounds my letter on the subject to amanpur appeard saeeda malik is vocal where she should not be--ref pm277/84 jpgmc murder of mental patient i have taken the core there are so many that affected me

    November 8, 2013 at 9:04 am | Reply
  4. Asadullah khan

    it is us has money and britan brains he must have meant it–literally

    November 8, 2013 at 9:17 am | Reply
  5. Asadullah khan

    There was attack on intelligece agecy at lahore - pakidtan(with fatalities.US govt,on its website expressed sorrow law enforcement agecies were being targeted,i wrote : they are law breaking agecie.somebody called me names in punjabi a dialect few can understant.i informed us was their website

    November 8, 2013 at 9:32 am | Reply
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